How will Nunez and Haaland change Liverpool and City in attack?

Nunez drew first blood against Haaland, but how will Liverpool and Man City’s new attacks shape up? Alvarez could be Pep’s secret weapon, Salah looks sharp while both sides have lost key players

  • Liverpool’s Darwin Nunez won the first battle against Man City’s Erling Haaland
  • The two blockbuster buys went head-to-head in Saturday’s Community Shield 
  • Nunez scored Liverpool’s third whilst Haaland missed a catalogue of chances
  • The summer signings will change each side’s playing style – especially up front 
  • Sportsmail has assessed how the title rivals will shape up in attack next season 

After Saturday afternoon’s showdown at the King Power, it is hard to brand the Community Shield as a glorified friendly any more.

In bygone years, managers have approached the Premier League curtain raiser with caution, eager not to attract any unnecessary injury concerns, and that conservative mindset often resulted in low-scoring affairs.

Until Liverpool’s 3-1 triumph against the defending champions at the weekend, the last time the Community Shield produced more than four goals in a match was back in 2012, when Manchester City beat Chelsea 3-2 at Villa Park.

Darwin Nunez stole the headlines from Erling Haaland after scoring off the bench for Liverpool

The new Man City star had a catalogue of chances but failed to convert as his side lost 3-1

But this season was different. With early season bragging rights up for grabs, the emphasis for both City and Liverpool was attack.

Glistening with shiny new toys in Darwin Nunez and Erling Haaland, each squad had an exciting new talent to flaunt in attack – and both Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola were keen to give their new stars one more runout ahead of the upcoming campaign.

As both clubs have operated without a traditional number nine in recent years, the Premier League title race could well come down to which side better adapts in attack at the start of the season.

Sportsmail has analysed the tactical set-ups deployed by Guardiola and Klopp at the weekend and assessed how Man City and Liverpool will fare this season with Haaland and Nunez leading the line. 

Haaland’s introduction in the Man City team could adapt how Pep Guardiola fields his attack

Manager Jurgen Klopp now has a goal-hungry target man to aim for within his Liverpool camp

Formation and philosophy

The 4-3-3 formation has long been the bedrock of success for both Guardiola and Klopp, even if each manager has deviated with it slightly to suit their exclusive philosophies.

Bearing resemblance to the revolutionary set-up used by Guardiola at Barcelona in 2008-09, City’s fluid 4-3-3 has almost evolved into a 4-1-5 in attack, with Rodri or Fernandinho pivoting the midfield to free up the playmakers, wingers and inside forwards further up the pitch.

Without a recognised number nine, the wingers and attacking midfielders would press high in defence and play intricate passes in attack, with no individual burdened with the responsibility of finishing off chances.

Guardiola could reconsider his attacking shape with Haaland leading the line at Man City

However, if the Community Shield is anything to go by, Haaland’s introduction has altered Man City’s shape somewhat, becoming more of a 4-2-3-1 in principal.

No longer expected to anchor the midfield on his own, Rodri was joined by Bernardo Silva in the double pivot at the weekend, allowing star man Kevin de Bruyne to push up just behind Haaland as a shadow striker.

As a result, the Belgian’s goal-scoring has prospered in pre-season. He heads into the new campaign as City’s top scorer following an impressive brace against Club America.

Barcelona target Bernardo Silva played in a deeper role against Bayern Munich and Liverpool

Silva dropping deep alongside Rodri has given wingers Jack Grealish, Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez more freedom in wide positions. 

Although Mahrez remained rather trigger-happy in terms of shooting on Saturday, the trio will be expected to prioritise creating opportunities for Haaland, rather than fashioning chances for themselves.

With Ilkay Gundogan and new arrival Kalvin Phillips adept at operating in the double pivot, it seems Guardiola is shifting towards a slightly new formation this season to accommodate the Norwegian target man.   

Meanwhile, Klopp has also favoured a 4-3-3 during his time at Anfield, gaining his first blaze of success with a front three of Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah.

The Community Shield was Klopp’s sixth trophy success since joining Liverpool in June 2015  

With defensively-astute engines in midfield, the German has predominantly used his wing-backs Andrew Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold to fashion goal-scoring chances for the likes of Salah, Mane and more recently Diogo Jota.

In practice, the centre forward would drop deep to link up with the midfield while the wide men run beyond the defence in the hope of creating a one-on-one opportunity.

By adding Nunez, Klopp now has a central striker capable of breaking the line and running through on goal, which should lessen the goal-scoring burden on three-time golden boot winner Salah. 

Nunez nearly won a spot-kick for Liverpool soon after coming on – but he was given offside

Strength and depth

As far as the rest of the league are concerned, Man City and Liverpool head into next season as intimidating as ever.

Both almost 20 points ahead of Chelsea in third last season, there is no denying that the Premier League champions and FA Cup holders are a cut above the rest of the pack in terms of first-team strength and squad depth.

Despite letting go of Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus – and looking worryingly thin at the full-back spots – City continue to boast an embarrassment of riches in forward areas and look set to finish the season with the highest goal tally for a sixth successive campaign.

Substitute Julian Alvarez impressed City fans with his work-rate and second-half equaliser

Defensive anchor Rodri and attacking midfielder De Bruyne are the notable stalwarts in Guardiola’s midfield, but the number eight and wide positions are fairly interchangeable as far as the Spanish boss is concerned.

Phillips is the most likely to deputise for Rodri when the Spaniard is injured, banned or in need of a rest, but he can also play at number eight as he did alongside Declan Rice at Euro 2020 for England.

Gundogan, who was the hero on the final day of last season with a double against Aston Villa, is yet another talent Guardiola can call upon in his new-look double pivot.

Defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips joined the champions for £45m after Fernandinho’s exit

Julian Alvarez impressed against Liverpool with his equaliser off the bench and could well prove to be Guardiola’s secret weapon ahead of the new campaign.

Capable of covering for Haaland when necessary, the former River Plate striker showed he was more than worthy of a spot on the wing and will likely rival Grealish, Foden, Mahrez and youngster Cole Palmer in each of the two wide positions.

In tandem with Foden, Alvarez brought bundles of energy and work ethic after his introduction to the game and looked to be very close to full match sharpness, unlike some of the City starters.

Phil Foden looked sharp after coming on, despite training with the under-23s in pre-season

Klopp used all six available substitutes in the Community Shield, demonstrating just how much he trusts the depth of his squad.

With a rich range of experiences on the bench, the German manager has the ability to call upon the likes of veteran James Milner, new recruit Fabio Carvalho and youngsters Curtis Jones and Harvey Elliott in midfield alone.

Although Klopp’s forward line looks very different to his last Premier League winning team in 2020, with Mane out and Firmino taking on more of a squad role with every season, the attack has no doubt improved overall in terms of strength and depth. 

January addition Luis Diaz will be expected to replace Sadio Mane’s impact on the left flank

Following Mane’s exit to Bayern Munich, Luis Diaz will be expected to take over the baton on the left flank – but the Colombian is not yet a like-for-like replacement in terms of playstyle.

The main aspect of Mane’s game that improved during his six-year spell at Anfield was his decision-making. 

Towards the latter stages of his Reds career, the Senegalese international knew exactly when to abandon the left flank and when to hug the touchline during Liverpool’s build-up. 

In many ways, Diaz possesses the same fearless mentality formerly held by Mane, hungry to take defenders on at every opportunity. Despite his impressive start to life at Liverpool, the 25-year-old would be wise to continue developing his decision-making in the final third, which will no doubt improve his end product.

The ex-Reds winger began a new chapter with Bayern Munich this summer after his £35m exit

Winners and losers

Although Haaland and Nunez dominated the headlines, there were several attacking performances worth taking note of as the new season looms. 

Alexander-Arnold continued to showcase his creative talents from right-back, joining the midfield in possession to act as an extra deep-lying playmaker. He was even the Liverpool player furthest forward at times.

A handful of Reds fans have called for extra midfield recruits ahead of next season, desperate to find extra firepower in the Premier League title hunt, but Alexander-Arnold’s quarter-back performance reinforced exactly where Liverpool’s creativity comes from.

Trent Alexander-Arnold continued to shine with a long-distance stunner against Man City

His England team-mate Grealish had enjoyed a fairly fruitful pre-season until the Community Shield, assisting Haaland’s first ever City goal against Bayern Munich, but the winger’s rather uninspiring display against Liverpool could well land him on the bench against West Ham on the opening weekend.

Studio pundit Roy Keane criticised Grealish for his risk-averse performance at half-time and Guardiola, who may well have agreed with the Irishman, hooked off the club-record signing in the 58th minute.

Foden, despite training with the under-23s in Croatia at the end of July due to failing USA entry protocols, looked sharp after coming on as a substitute and inspired City’s best period of the game.

Three-time golden boot winner Mohamed Salah looked razor-sharp ahead of the new season

Jack Grealish struggled to make a significant impact despite performing well on City’s US tour

He and goal-scorer Alvarez showed Guardiola exactly why they should be in contention to start the new season, especially as Grealish and Mahrez were sloppy and wasteful at times in the final third. 

But arguably the best performance of the match came from Liverpool’s reliable talisman. 

Not only did Salah keep his cool and slot away the important penalty at 1-1, he looked razor-sharp from the first whistle and threatened City throughout the game with his dazzling movement.

With star players De Bruyne and Salah heading into the season with the bit between their teeth, and new signings Haaland and Nunez finding goal-scoring positions with relative ease, the title race between City and Liverpool promises to be just as enthralling, even before the first kick-off this weekend. 

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